Libraries are building a new collaboration

What did the famous wartime hero, Marshal Mannerheim do in Mikkeli during the war years? Fires in Mikkeli – which buildings have burned and when? My grandmother was working in a traveling circus – are there data from the circus or about my grandmother? Why have people moved to Mikkeli through the years? These are examples of questions from people who came to learn about the use of digital newspapers of The National Library. 

The Centre for Preservation and Digitisation of The National Library in Finland carried out an open and free course Discover the treasures of the history pages of newspapers for local people. The course was arranged in cooperation with the Mikkeli Community College and Provincial Library and was held at the Provincial Library four Tuesdays in March. 

The participants were encouraged to choose a personally interesting topic and to search for information from the digital newspapers of The National Library, the service. The National Library has digitised all Finnish newspapers until 1910, and they are freely available to everyone.

Digital newspapers

You can use the service in Finnish, Swedish and English. Due to copyright reasons, the more recent digital newspapers are seen only in the six Finnish legal deposit libraries and they are available on microfilm in selected libraries.

The Aviisi project of The National Library is piloting two in-copyright digital newspapers from 1916 to 2013 in the Mikkeli region and the compatibility of the whole digital history of these papers for use, for example in elementary and high school, community college, museums and for research and educational purposes.

The newspapers are an invaluable and rich cultural and historical heritage and the Finns have always been diligent readers. Even before the year 1950 there have been published 611 separate newspaper titles in Finland. Finns have always read about the current events in newspapers, be they political, economic, science, culture or art. Newspapers tell local, regional and national news in a brief and concise manner. Therefore, the newspaper materials are very diverse and rich materials to be used.

Learning by doing and sharing

The newspaper course had three main objectives. First, we wanted to find out whether citizens have an interest in studying the digitised data of old newspapers. The number of people involved and returning each time confirmed the existence of interest.

Second, we wanted to know in what kinds of things and which newspaper information the townspeople are interested. Course participants have shown interest in a broad spectrum of topics: from family history, village and town history to various events, anecdotes, proverbs and the linguistic and semantic change in Finnish words.

Third, we wanted to test whether the old data from digital newspapers could be used as learning materials when adults and older people are to learn the basic skills of using a computer. Could they learn basic computer skills by experimenting with search possibilities in the newspapers and conducting searches concerning issues of personal interest?

The tutors were supporting learning and also giving guidance. The group supported individual learning, by discussing, reflecting on the topics and articles and sharing information. The group was studying together, learning by doing, sharing knowledge and experiencing joy which leads to interaction, and thus builds social relations and social well-being.

Both local and national cultural heritage

The experts of The National Library designed and pedagogically guided the course based on joint learning. As a visitor we had the well-known historian, Jukka Partanen, from the Genealogical Society of Finland. Jukka guided the participants interested in genealogy and history and recalled the time when all the data were on microfilms. Microfilm reels had to be wound on until the right frame was found. Today, data is very accessible for researchers and other users and browsing and search is easy.

In addition to guiding the homing desire for knowledge of the townspeople the two digital in-copyright newspapers of the National Library are piloted in other organisations too. The University of Helsinki has a research unit in Mikkeli, and a few other universities also use the newspapers for research and educational use. They are also available online in the Mikkeli region in all elementary schools, high schools, as well as the regional museums.

The experts of The National Library have initially organized guidance and brainstorming sessions for the user groups of the material, together with the organizations: what data is available, who can use the materials and how? Newspaper materials are part of the national cultural heritage, which should be made more widely accessible, to benefit society as a whole, and to open doors into a wide range of new possibilities.

The Aviisi Project

The project is carried out at the Centre for Preservation and Digitisation in Mikkeli / The National Library of Finland which is part of the University of Helsinki. The ERDF project is funded by the South Savo Regional Council, the National Library and the City of Mikkeli, Kaakon Viestintä Ltd / Länsi-Savo newspaper, Viestilehdet Ltd / Maaseudun tulevaisuus newspaper, as well as the copyright organisation Kopiosto. The project is implemented during 2015-2016.